Calories are Not Created Equal: 5 Strategies to Making Your Calories Count
A calorie is a calorie, right? Not so fast.
Yes, it matters how many calories you consume. The quantity is the biggest factor controlling weight status. It’s like the Goldilocks for diets. Eat too much, you gain weight. Eat too little, you lose weight. Eat just enough, you maintain weight.
But of course, there’s more to the story. This is an over simplified way of looking at energy balance. While the quantity may make the biggest impact on your waistline, the quality has the biggest impact on your health. Why not go for both? Together, you have the perfect balance. You have a way of nourishing your body with the foods it needs most in just the right amount.
How do we make our calories count?
- Make single ingredient foods the bulk of your diet. These are our building blocks, packed with nutrition. You can combine them to make a variety of dishes, as I’m not telling you to eat only single ingredient foods in isolation. That would be an incredibly boring way to eat! These powerhouse foods include all fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, whole grains, nuts and oils.
- Limit snacks and treats. You don’t need to avoid altogether (unless you’d prefer to). In my opinion, food is more than just calories. It’s about pleasure too. Having these foods as a minor part of your diet is perfectly acceptable (and I’d even say encouraged). But, keep these treats to a minimum. A good estimate is about ~100-200 calories a day.
- Don’t drink your calories. Stick to water, seltzer, tea and coffee. Flavor your water, seltzer or tea with fruits and herbs. Drink your coffee black or add a splash of milk or cream. If you have a smoothie, just remember it is a meal or a snack. Not a beverage. This is the single easiest way to cut unnecessary (and often poor quality) calories from your diet.
- Pick nutrient dense foods. Some foods may have similar calories and macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, protein) but their micronutrients differ. We want to choose the foods that have more of these micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxdidants, and fiber. Choose an orange over orange juice because of the fiber content. Pick oatmeal over an oatmeal cookie because of the vitamins and minerals.
- Pick Wisely from Your Food Groups. It’s best to get an appropriate amount from each of the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein. It’s also important to choose the best options within those categories. For instance, stick with lean proteins in the protein group and whole grains in the grain group.
As you can see, quality matters. If you need a little extra help in how to estimate quantity, visit choosemyplate.gov